Cross-country ski podiums and maybe racing mountain biking again: Sepp Kuss and his own unique trajectory, 'not wanting to feel too much pressure, or have an over-necessity to win'

The Jumbo-Visma rider takes his cycling seriously, but enjoyment takes precedence

Sepp Kuss
(Image credit: Getty)

There is a public perception that has formed around Sepp Kuss, a narrative that seems hard to change. It follows a similar thought, accepting his talent as one of the best climbers in the world, but believing that he doesn’t want to lead a Grand Tour team. It’s often said absurdly, as if someone so strong in the mountains can even deny the opportunity to try and win a yellow, pink or red jersey.

Is it a fair interpretation? “Ah, I mean,” the American strains in his answer to Cycling Weekly. “I would love to but it comes with…you know, I guess I am pretty honest with myself. Every day I see what it takes to be that guy fighting for a podium or for a win and I look at myself and I know what I am missing to be in that position.”

Which is? “I think, of course, the time trial, the requirement to be at your best day-to-day, all of those things, but also the mental side. You have to be really sharp every day, be ready to suffer through the bad days and measure yourself on the better days. It’s something that is not often realised, the mental side, of being the guy fighting for the podium.

“Of course for me down the road, it is motivating to try it, but at this point I am not at the stage where I can say I am going here for the podium and I need these resources behind me. I still have to work on a lot of things and in doing that I don’t want to lose what I like about racing right now, which is getting stage wins, riding aggressively, and riding without so much pressure every day which is also something that I like; that’s where I am at now and I don’t want to lose that feeling.”

"I’ve never lost that initial adventurous facet of cycling"

Sepp Kuss

It’s a candid response, one that, I put to him, fits in with his outlook on life of enjoyment coming first. “Maybe, yeah,” he says. “I’m not the guy who needs to win at all costs. If I lose or fail, it’s not going to define me as a person, even though I do want to win. But I like to focus on the process, enjoy training day to day, and if it’s meant to be then it happens. For me, that’s enjoyment.”

The Jumbo-Visma rider, 27, has built a bit of a cult following, and not just for his infamous tongue sitting lopsided out of his mouth as he leads the peloton up a climb seemingly effortlessly. Approachable and cheerful, Kuss started his 2022 racing season by finish second in a cross-country skiing race in his adopted home of Andorra.

He started out as a nordic skier - his dad Dolph was once even the coach of the US national team - but this was his first race in many a winter season. He bought some skis last winter and decided to return to his roots, in part to “experience different people… and if I am going to call Andorra home, I want to be more connected with the people here."

On his Instagram, Israel-Premier Tech’s Michael Woods declared Kuss as “so dope” and Ineos Grenadiers’ Cameron Wurf joked that “I’ve got the biggest man crush on you.”

“I was a little surprised [with the result], but I knew I would be OK,” Kuss says of his visit to the podium. “In the few times I have skied this year I felt fine technique-wise, and of course the cardio carries over pretty well from all the riding. 

“But it’s a different kind of suffering that’s hard to compare to bike suffering. It’s full body, cardio, tasting blood from five minutes in. It’s so technique-driven and you really have to pay attention to how you’re moving.

“I had plenty of muscle memory from my years doing it, but I noticed a few days before the race how sore my upper body was. That’s something I’ve neglected since I started riding a bike and being a climber.”

Sepp Kuss

Kuss, second left, celebrates Primož Roglič's third Vuelta a Españs triumph last September.

(Image credit: Getty)

Another one of Kuss’ first loves was mountain biking, and he can often be spotted on trails around the Catalan Pyrenees. “That was my first outlet at the adventure you can have in cycling,” he smiles. “And I’ve never lost that initial adventurous facet of cycling. I love the road bike, but for me, the mountain bike is a way to disconnect, to explore, and I love it.”

He mentions that Milan Vader, a 26-year-old road rookie who Jumbo-Visma signed this winter, will be racing a split road and mountain bike schedule. Is it something that Kuss would be open to? “I would consider it. It would be something really fun to do, it’s just a matter of fitting it in,” he says.

“I haven’t spoken to the team specifically about racing, but I’m sure it could be on the cards. But if I am riding the Tour, they will want to limit the risk of injury from a mountain bike race. For sure it could work out, but it depends where in the season.”

Kuss was a two-time national collegiate cross country champion and he raced World Cup events in the discipline in 2014 and 2015, but confessed that while “they’re nice because it’s the highest level, it wasn’t as fun for me.” If he would return to wobbly and wider tyres, it would be in marathon distance races. "The longer races are what I like, the more tactical ones, not as explosive as the World Cup events," he explains.

Back onto the road, and Kuss shortly begins another season working mainly in support of Primož Roglič but also seeking out his own opportunities. A ‘home’ win on stage 15 of the Tour de France in Andorra last year has motivated him.

“Once you win and you know that feeling, you want more of it,” he says. “You expect more from yourself.” But, he returns to the same theme: winning should never be the ultimate destination.

“I want to keep on the trajectory, but I try not and let it get to my head too much," he says. "I don’t want to feel too much pressure or have an over-necessity to win or to do something. I think as you do better, it makes it harder almost as then you have a bit more weight on your shoulders. 

‘Am I doing this right, or did I do it like this last season, but now I can do it even better?’ Is that always the best thing to do? I measure everything and trust in myself.”

The narrative's not so wrong, then. Kuss is ambitious, but he's under no pressure to change his outlook on life. 

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Chris Marshall-Bell

Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.

Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.